A Few Days on Maui
(Part 1 of Tom's Hawaii Trip, January 1997)
On January 5th I boarded a plane in Minneapolis amidst blowing snow and subzero
weather and disembarked several hours later to warm breezes and glowing just-after-sunset
skies in Honolulu. It's an amazing time we live in. A quick hop on Hawaiian
airlines got me to Maui, where I picked up a car and headed towards my conference
hotel. I didn't know quite where I was going, but I knew it was on the other
side of the island and that there weren't very many major highways, so I got
the ocean behind me and drove and ended up where I wanted. One of the many things
I love about islands.
Due to a scheduling change, I had all of the next day free. So in obedience
to advice proffered by a friend on the Internet, I decided to drive clear around
the island to Hana. Hana is on the isolated and rain-foresty east coast of Maui,
and the road to Hana is like a narrower version of California's highway 1 transposed
into the tropics: lots of one-lane bridges just downstream from waterfalls,
and some driving along cliff edge roads over stunning beaches. I drove about
half an hour beyond Hana to a spot called "the seven sacred pools"
- which apparently aren't really sacred, but are beautiful nonetheless - and
took a hike up into the mountains. The highlight -- yes, there were beautiful
waterfalls, but by the time you get to Hana you're pretty inured to rainbow
shrouded torrents plunging into deep blue pools -- ...the highlight was a couple
of miles of trail through a bamboo forest. The bamboo was Big: maybe 90 feet
tall, stalks (trunks?) 6 inches in diameter. It was incredibly dense - maybe
eight inches between stalks - so it was very dark. And when the wind blew the
bamboo stalks rubbed against each other, clicking and rapping and creaking and
shrieking in a singularly arhythmic manner. It sounded almost alive, as though
the canopy were inhabited by a vast flock of woodpeckers on a bad acid trip.
The next day it was *very* difficult to get into the professional swing of
things for the conference; however once I discovered that my talk had been rescheduled
for first thing the next day, the jolt of adrenalin shoved me into the proper
frame of mind, and I conferenced away, got my talk polished, etc. etc. This
was actually good, because I got my talk out of the way, and found a couple
of opportunities during extended breaks to head off to a nearby beach for body
surfing. The internet had proved its mettle and directed me to a beach with
a good body surfing break near my hotel, that also happened to be swimsuit optional.
So, many happy hours were spent frolicking in the waves during the extended
lunch breaks, and the existence of the conference events kept me from getting
burned to a crisp.
After the conference ended I stayed on for an extra day and a half. The last
full day I took another friend's advice, arose at 4:30am, and drove up to the
10,000+ ft top of Haleakala, the volcano, to watch the sun rise over the crater.
This is a pretty popular thing to do, and so I joined a crowd of a hundred or
so people, trying, with some success, to be amused rather than annoyed at all
the people who believed that their flash attachments would let them get good
pictures of the sunrise. Initially it was completely dark; the moon was down
and there was nothing but stars and stars and stars. As the sky gradually got
light we could see that there were some clouds on the horizon and that the crater
was filled with mist. As it got lighter the mist in the crater started to dissolve.
We could see crags of rock peeking out of the mist, and gradually a barren landscape
was revealed. The mist was eddying now, and you could see it flowing down an
exposed sand dune, dissipating part way down the dune face. There were still
clouds on the horizon, with the sort of puffy, burled tops like you see on thunderheads,
and so there was some concern about a lackluster sunrise. But then, when the
sun approached the edge of the clouds, it lit them from underneath, so that
the horizon looked like a bed of coals, glowing an intense orange with an arc
of blue just above. Very Beautiful! Then the sun came up, which was pretty anticlimactic,
actually, and that was that.
I'd initially intended to spend the day hiking the crater, but the call of
the beach and body surfing won out over my initial intent, and so I headed down
the mountain and spent the rest of my time there interspersing body surfing,
sightseeing, and dining.
(Part 2 of Tom's Hawaii Trip, January 1997)
The last episode in my previous account was the drive up to the top of Haleakala,
the Maui volcano, to watch the sunrise. In fact, that was the penultimate adventure....
what happened next was an adventure of a different order.
I drove down the road from Haleakala, passing occasional pods of cyclists who
had been bussed to the summit and were now coasting down the thirty four mile
run to the coast. I was headed to north shore. I had it in mind to visit the
town of Haiku, for no other reason, really, than its name. I also like to try
to get away -- at least once per trip -- from wherever people are supposed to
go, and since my guidebook said next to nothing about Haiku, it sounded like
a good place to aim for.
Well, I did indeed get away. There were twisty roads, through green misty meadows
and shady green woods. It felt a lot like rural mendocino county along the coast.
A very moist, grey green sort of experience. But I never came to Haiku. Roads
split off and came together like rills during a wet spring, and the main channel
was never obvious. So I trickled down, this way and that, eventually winding
up on the coast highway, without ever having encountered the elusive Haiku.
Not being fanatical about such things I headed west, towards Paia, a sort of
hippy-ish town in sight of the coast, with a nice bakery and shops and such
(I'd stopped there on my drive to Hana at the other end of my trip). By the
time I made Paia the sun was out, the sky was blue, and it was fixing to be
a hot day. I parked along the side of the main drag, got out, and tried to orient
myself, to get a fix on the bakery, because it was definitely time for a little
However, standing there on the sidewalk, I suddenly had an Awful Feeling.
I patted my pocket. No jingle. I patted my other pocket. No jingle. I patted
my back pocket. No jingle. I tried the car door. Locked. I peered through the
window, and there, hanging from the ignition, were my keys.
I tried all the other doors. Locked. Locked. Locked.
In a burst of unthinking desperation I tried the trunk. God knows what I would
have done had it been unlocked. Climbed in and tried to tunnel through the back
seat, perhaps. But, of course, it was l o c k e d .
Time to swallow the old pride, and call up Hertz, and explain what happened.
This must happen pretty frequently, really. Probably they have spare keys for
each car, and can just send one right out. At least I'm not up on top of the
damn volcano, or out in Hana or somewhere. I'm probably only twenty minutes
from the main office here.
So I called. We talked. I explained. They didn't have a key... but they could
have one made. They asked me for my contract number. Oops: it's in the glove
compartment. OK, license plate. That was doable. They'll have a key cut, and
will send one out in a taxi. About forty minutes. OK. that's not bad....
Time passes. I don't wear a watch, so I'm not sure how much time passes. I browse
the stores, trying not to look like a shoplifter, and eyeing the walls for clocks.
There are no clocks. This is Hawaii. Occasionally I ask fellow browsers for
the time. They are tourists. They have watches. It goes slowly. After half an
hour I go out near the car and keep an eye out for a taxi. It's quite hot. The
sun is bright. My sunglasses and sunscreen are in the glove compartment. But
I must wait. There was no address, so the taxi knows only that it should cruise
the main street of Paia, and look for some frantically waving idiot who locked
his keys in the car.
Time passes. Forty minutes has come and gone. An hour has passed. There are
a few false alarms--shuttles, cop cars--but no taxis. Finally, a taxi. I wave
frantically. The taxi pulls in. He has a key for me. He is a friendly old man
of Japanese descent. He gives me the key, I give him some money, and, in a rush
of paranoia, I ask him to hang on a minute before leaving. Of course the key
I hurry across the street. I try the key. I doesn't work. I jiggle it. No luck.
I try it upside down. No luck. I try all the other doors. No. No. No. Hell,
I even try the trunk again. No. I wave frantically at the taxi, who has decided
his minute is up. He stops, and pulls back in. Sigh of relief.
I explain the problem. He gets out his cellphone and calls Hertz. Gets the manager.
Hands me the phone. I explain. The manager sighs. The car is a very new one.
Just got it in. The key codes that factory gave us seem to be mixed up. Very
sorry. Why not come back to the office while we're working on it.
So, I ride back to the office in the taxi. The taxi driver is very friendly.
He keeps up a running stream of commentary, about half of which I catch. He
and his wife have their own two-cab company. Their family has been here for
generations. He works for the rental car company all the time. They should have
a key that works! Make sure they pick up my fare! When we get to the rental
car place he comes in with me and tells the manager all this. The manager agrees.
The manager is a Hawaiian man named Rick, with one of those wonderful Hawaiian
last names that you sort of have to sing. Rick is very mellow, and the fact
that only an idiot would lock his keys in the car appears to have never entered
his mind. He is very apologetic about not having a key. He has called the factory,
but they too are confused about the codes.
But Rick has a solution: We will give you a new car, and we'll send someone
out on Monday to take care of that one.
This is Not a good solution. Fortunately, I have a good Excuse: Many, important,
even vital things, in the glove compartment, and my plane leaves tomorrow, Sunday.
So Monday is too late. Rick agrees, thus saving me from having to mention the
unfortunate fact that I have suppressed until now: I locked the keys in the
car while the engine was running.
The car gets really good gas mileage. How long will it run on idle? What will
give out first: the gas, or the engine? How good is the cooling system, in the
idling car, on the sunny side of the street, on this very very warm Hawaiian
day? Or perhaps it will burn up all the oil first, and the engine will freeze
into a useless, but very expensive lump of metal. Thus go my ruminations.
Rick has another idea! A locksmith! Yes, the Leia Lock Company will solve the
problem. We work with them frequently. He calls them. Yes, they will come over.
He gives directions to the locksmith. He gives a check to my very friendly cabbie,
and we get back in the taxi and head back to the car. We arrive. No locksmith
is in site, but he was coming from farther away, so this isn't unexpected. So,
I thank the cabbie, and find myself, once again, standing beside the car, on
the sunny, sunny street.
It is approaching noon. It is very hot, and very bright. The car's engine fan
is running. The car windows are mirrors, reflecting the street scene. I try
to stand in a little niche of shade. But there's not quite enough cover all
my bare skin, unless I contort my body a bit. But I already feel pretty conspicuous,
so I decide to let my right arm fry, since the left one had gotten a head start
throught the open window when I was driving earlier. I lean nonchalantly against
the side of the building, as though I have nothing better to do than to watch
Paia's main street fill up with traffic at noon on Saturday. I catch a glimpse
of myself in the mirrors of the car's windows: I don't look nonchalant. The
reflection jerks a little, as the car's fan turns off.
The car idles softly. I convince myself that most of the people walking by don't
notice that it's running, or if they do, they don't notice that it's been parked
there quite a long time. The fan goes on again and whirs for a while. Then it
goes off. A little bit later it goes back on. I try not to time the intervals
between fan off and fan on. I try not to speculate on whether those intervals
are getting shorter, as the engine grows hotter and hotter and hotter. I distract
myself by watching for locksmith. He has a brown van, Rick said, with a sign
on top. You can't miss it. I see many vans, some with signs on top. In the distance,
at least if one is watching Very Hopefully, police cars and taxis (lots of them
now) look kind of like locksmith vans.
Time passes. Many almost-locksmith-vans appear in the distance, only to resolve
into less welcome vehicles as they approach. The car has been idling at least
two hours. The fan is clearly staying on more, and off less. I wonder how much
heat the fan itself generates, and whether there is some diabolical non-linear
heating function that is about to go exponential on me. I fantasize about breaking
the window, and then fantasize about being dragged of to jail by very friendly
Hawaiian cops in vans that look almost but not quite like locksmith vans.
Finally, a locksmith van appears. I wave frantically. The locksmith pulls in
across the street into a parking place that has miraculously opened up. He doesn't
come over immediately. He goes into the back of his van for about five minutes.
The fan goes off and on a couple of times. Finally he comes over. He's a bit
portly, a bit unkept, in a bit of a bad mood. Not that he's rude. He doesn't
comment on the fact that the car appears to be running. Nor does he comment
on the mental traits that might be responsible for my predicament. But clearly
his lot in life is to be at the beck and call of idiots, and he's not pleased
about this. Perhaps I exaggerate. Perhaps he's just a bit hung over from Friday
night. But I pay little attention to his mood, and hang on his words of Hope:
Just a matter of cutting a key, he says. It'll be no problem--I've been doing
this for thirteen years. I feel relieved. I hardly even notice the thirteen.
He goes back into his van. The fan goes on. He's talking on his cellphone. Five
minutes pass. The fan goes off. He's fiddling with a machine, perhaps cutting
a key? He comes out and crosses the street. Takes out a key, sticks it in the
door, and... it doesn't work. He takes a file and files at the key. Still doesn't
work. But I can tell he's a Pro: he doesn't even glance towards the trunk. I
watch his reflection in the window: he's scowling; there are beads of sweat
on his upper lip. Finally he gives up in disgust, expressing his feelings in
terms that suggest he was a Nixon staffer in a previous life. 'The key codes
are bad,' he explains to me, in tones that don't quite suggest it's my fault.
'I thought they sounded screwy when the factory gave them to me.' I decide not
to mention that I already knew this. The fan goes on again.
He goes back to the van, and comes back out, sooner this time, with a long tool.
I'll just jimmy the door, he says. I watch with interest. I'd briefly had visions
of dismembered coat hangers and delicate lock fishing, but these new cars are
pretty tight and the door locks are just little stubs, not something you could
get a hanger loop over. I kneel down to get a better view. From this angle the
window reflects only the blue of the sky and the sweat beaded crown of his head.
He's not going for the lock, but down inside the door, trying for the handle,
I presume. He taps a little plastic wedge in between the window and the car
frame, to give himself more working room, then starts fishing around with a
long tool that's a more sophisticated version of ye olde bent coat hanger. He's
trying to hook something, and occasionally pulls up sharply. The mirrored sky
trembles at each jerk, and sweat trickles down his head. But he can't quite
get whatever it is. He's swearing now, and I sense the ghost of Nixon nearby,
listening with interest to novel catenations of explicatives. He tries again.
His pulls get more violent, but still the whatever-it-is resists. This is a
bitch, he says. He wipes his brow. It's quite hot. I haven't noticed the car
fan go off in quite a while. It's whirring right along. Perhaps it sounds a
bit rougher? He goes back to work. To give himself a little more room to work,
he taps the wedge in a little more.
And then I see it. First, it's just a flash that catches the corner of my eye,
like heat lighting on the horizon. A bright glint. And then, like a massive
lightening bolt in a midsummer's thunderstorm, a jagged tree of light crackles
upwards through the blue of the sky. It's the window, of course, its safety
glass shattering, catching the sun in a coral fan of light.
A long moment passes. The workman utters a single word. The window sags a bit,
and chunks of the fractured sky begin to fall to the sidewalk.
Well, that solves that problem. The workman -- I'm no longer thinking of him
as a locksmith -- mutters that this has never happened before, in his thirteen
years of doing this. I knock out the rest of the glass, lean in, and turn off
the car. The fan is still going, but I know the end is in sight. The lady, in
front of whose shop this little drama has occured, comes out to the sidewalk
and, with a smile, offers me a broom and dustpan. After two and a half hours
of helplessness, I am pleased by the opportunity for constructive action. I
sweep up. I empty the dustpan in the store. I thank the lady. I go back out
to the car. The locksmith has left. The fan goes off. I feel a peace descend
The rest of the story is uneventful. I drive back to the Hertz place, listening
to the dull tinkle of shards of glass working their way through the innards
of the door. I am Recognized. Hertz employees nod pleasantly at me. They are
professionals. Rick himself comes to help me. I explain. Rick nods sympathetically.
He too is a professional. We fill out paperwork. Rick says they'll work out
payment with the lock company. They give me a new car, with no discernable hesitation.
I leave, and spend the rest of the day body surfing. But first, before getting
in the car, I make sure that each of the doors in the car is unlocked. Can't
do anything about the trunk, though.